Travel | G20 host cities special

Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture

Onsen and castle grounds steeped in history

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Matsuyama, which will host the Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting on Sept. 1 and 2, is the biggest city on the island of Shikoku. The capital of Ehime Prefecture is known for the famous Dogo Onsen, which is regarded as Japan’s oldest hot spring with a history dating back around 3,000 years, drawing about six millions of travelers each year.

The picturesque, wooden three-story Dogo Onsen Honkan (main building) was built in 1894 and became the first public bathhouse in Japan to be designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1994. Celebrated writer Natsume Soseki frequented the bathhouse after he was assigned a teaching post at a local junior high school; in honor of the writer, it has preserved a third-floor room where the great literary figure used to relax after baths that is open to the public.

Today, the main building has two bathing areas where visitors can soak in natural simple alkaline hot spring water known for its skin benefits. The hot spring water used in the bathhouse comes directly from the spring, with no heating or additional water used in order to preserve its quality. At present, the building is being renovated, but visitors can still enjoy bathing in the Kami-no-Yu bath on the first floor.

Travelers can also try out Asuka-no-Yu, a newer public bathhouse annex that opened in December 2017 and has three types of baths, including an outdoor one.

The annex has different types of rooms for visitors to relax after bathing, including private rooms on the second floor where they can lounge in yukata (lightweight, casual kimono) while unwinding with some green tea and wagashi (traditional Japanese confections).

Matsuyama is also known as a castle town, with the famous Matsuyama Castle nestled in the heart of the city. Standing on top of the 132-meter Mount Katsuyama is the castle, which was built in the early 1600s. Visitors can ascend the hill on foot or take a chairlift or cable car to more easily admire the view from above.

The hilltop offers a superb panoramic view of the entire city and the tranquil Seto Inland Sea stretching toward the west. The premise is also a popular spot for viewing cherry blossoms, with around 200 cherry trees typically reaching full bloom in late March or April.

The impressive feudal castle was originally built between 1603 and 1627, and boasts 21 structures designated as Important Cultural Properties. The original donjon burned down in a fire triggered by lightning in 1784. However, after many decades of renovation, the version of the castle tower seen today was completed in 1854.

Blessed with a mild climate throughout the year and little rain, the city is also perfect for outdoor activities and cultural exploration, such as cycling the beautiful coast line along the Seto Inland Sea and visiting museums.

Anjenette Lacson, a Matsuyama resident from the Philippines, shared that Mitsuhama is her favorite place to visit in the city.

“It is a quiet, old port area and is the main port of Matsuyama. I like this place because my heart has a soft spot for quiet, old places. Cycling along its narrow, sleepy streets reminds me of my nonchalant, laid-back town back home,” said Lacson, an assistant language teacher who came to Matsuyama in August last year. “I like how the historical buildings were preserved and how they were lovingly refashioned into restaurants and shops. For me, there’s something so tender about how this place merges nostalgia and the pride of survival.”

She noted that one of the positive aspects of traveling around Matsuyama is that everything is geographically close.

“A few minutes away from the station, you can take a brief uphill walk to a mini bamboo forest, like the one in Kyoto. At the end of the trail, you can get a view of the Seto Inland Sea,” Lacson observed.

Matsuyama is also a gourmet oasis known for its delicious fruits, especially the sweet and juicy citrus varieties such as Setoka and Beni Madonna. Visitors must also try the fresh fish caught in the Seto Inland Sea. Of the many seafood dishes available, taimeshi (red sea bream with steamed rice) is one of the popular local delicacies.

Lacson also recommended mitsuhamayaki, a pancake-esque dish similar to okonomiyaki, which she described is the soul food of the port area.

“I like it better because of its distinct, delicious taste that distinguishes it from your standard okonomiyaki,” she said.

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